On the morning of
March 19, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I stood with a
small group of protesters outside U.S. Southern Command Headquarters in Miami.
A reporter asked me whether I felt frustrated.
"The war seems
to be endless," she volunteered.
told her, "it's not endless. It's definitely going to end. The only
question is whether it will end sooner rather than later, and how much more
death and destruction our government and armed forces are going to inflict on
the people of Iraq in the meantime."
In the looking glass
world of American political commentary, U.S. forces are fighting to establish
peace and order in Iraq. On April 10, George W. Bush gave a speech claiming
that reduced violence in Iraq was a sign of success. In the same speech,
however, Bush praised his Badr Brigade allies for the recent escalation of
violence in Basra, and Israeli-trained U.S. Special Forces for a nightly
campaign of targeted assassination that has been murdering Iraqis in their beds
for more than four years. Seymour Hersh
Borger broke that story in December 2003.
"In the period ahead, we will stay on the offense against the enemy. As we
speak, U.S. Special Forces are launching multiple operations every night to
capture or kill al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. Coalition and Iraqi forces are also
stepping up conventional operations against al Qaeda in northern Iraq, where
terrorists have concentrated after being largely pushed from central and western
Iraq. And Prime Minister Maliki's government has launched operations in Basra
that make clear a free Iraq will no longer tolerate the lawlessness by
In reality, as Bush
implied, any prospect of peace in Iraq poses a serious threat to the goals that
drove the United States to invade Iraq in the first place, and have kept U.S.
forces stuck there ever since. This is not hard to understand. Iraq is
scheduled to hold provincial elections in October, and to elect a new
Constituent Assembly next year. If these elections take place under remotely
fair and peaceful conditions, independent, nationalist parties opposed to the
U.S. occupation are sure to make a clean sweep, with Muqtada al-Sadr's wing of
the Dawa Party, the Basra-based Fadilha (Justice) Party and nationalist Sunni
parties handing pro-occupation parties a similar defeat to that suffered by
America's first Iraqi puppet Iyad Allawi in 2005. The next step would be the
election of a national government that will order U.S. occupation forces out of
This is what makes
the whole situation such a hot potato for the next American president. Without
endless and ultimately unsustainable injections of American violence, the
occupation of Iraq was always destined to end this way. No permanent bases --
no privatization of the oil industry -- no puppet government. This was the
result predicted by Bush Senior's advisers in 1990 when they counseled against
invading Iraq. "Sooner or later they'll have an election, and our guys will
lose." Our government has destroyed Iraq in a desperate effort to keep
this inevitable outcome at bay, with five years of air strikes, American and
Iraqi death squads, torture, devastation and terror.
In the meantime, the
present Iraqi Constituent Assembly established by the fraudulent U.S.-backed
political process is still refusing to pass a law to privatize Iraq's oil
industry. It also attempted to prevent the renewal of the U.N. mandate for the
"Multi-National Force" in Iraq last December. And these were supposed
to be our Iraqis. The lists of names that were not revealed to voters until the
day of the election in 2005 included dozens of exiles eager to claim their
share of power and wealth as America's allies in the new Iraq. Now most of
those exiles have returned to London, Washington, Tehran and wherever else they
came from, and the Assembly can barely make a quorum. And many of the
representatives who remain are actually standing up for their own country's
interests in the face of American bribes, threats and blackmail.
has always been a primary goal of the U.S. occupation. The members of Dick
Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force understood that growth in Asia was bound to
swell the demand side of the world oil market for many years to come. And they
understood painfully well that, as a result of the nationalization of the oil
industry in every major oil-producing country since the 1970s, the bulk of the
huge profits from increasing demand and rising prices would flow into the
coffers of OPEC governments, instead of to the shareholders of Exxon, Shell, BP
and Chevron. Before World War II, BP paid only a 16 percent royalty for the
privilege of extracting oil from Iran. Now it has to buy it at full price on
the open market.
The oil companies
are doing incredibly well as it is, but just imagine their position if the
nationalization of the major producers' oil industries had never happened, or
could somehow be reversed. They could now be sharing in the massive profits
from the production of oil in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and
elsewhere. With production costs for Iraqi oil still at $1 or $1.50 a barrel,
and the same barrel selling for $113 on the world market, even a modest share
of production revenues would bring unprecedented profits to the major oil
companies. And reversing the nationalization of the oil industry in one of the
major oil-producing countries could be the first step to regaining control of
the world oil market. James Paul explained this in greater detail in his article,
in Iraq: the Heart of the Crisis," in December 2002.
surprise! This is exactly what the U.S.-backed Iraqi oil law is designed to do.
Before the invasion, the U.S. State Department's Oil and Energy Working Group
recommended that Iraq "should be opened to international oil companies as
quickly as possible after the war," and favored "production sharing
agreements" as the most promising vehicle for doing this. An oil industry
consultant from London, named Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, who was a member of the
State Department working group, was appointed as oil minister in the
transitional occupation government in 2005, and he began the process of
drafting a law based on precisely that model.
Under the new law,
in addition to sharing in oil production revenues, Western oil companies would
hold a controlling majority on the board that would allocate new oil production
contracts. While the Iraqi National Oil Company would retain control of 17 oil
fields that are already in production, it would have to compete with foreign
companies for contracts to develop 63 other fields that it has already
discovered, as well as other fields that are discovered in the future.
The oil law would
also grant foreign oil companies the rights to repatriate 100 percent of their
profits, to bring in unlimited quantities of cheap labor from outside Iraq, as
Western contractors are already doing in other industries, and to exclude Iraqi
companies, technicians and workers from oil field operations in their own
country. If the present Constituent Assembly will not swallow this bitter pill,
the chances of ramming it through any future one are slimmer still.
Assembly also asserted its authority on the renewal of the U.N. Security
Council mandate for the "multi-national force" in Iraq. Under Iraq's
Constitution, the Maliki government was required to consult the Assembly before
requesting the renewal of the MNF mandate. When the government failed to submit
its request to the Assembly, a majority of the Assembly's members signed a
letter to the Security Council explaining that the government's MNF renewal
request was not constitutional. The Security Council ignored the Assembly and
the Constitution, and renewed the mandate regardless, but the Assembly once
again demonstrated that it has escaped from American control.
Islamist social philosophy is not progressive by Western standards. But one
thing he shares with other popular leaders like Gandhi and King is the
understanding that the moral contradictions of oppressors or occupiers can be
the key to defeating them. Just as Gandhi challenged the British to behave like
Christians, and King challenged America to "live out the true meaning of
its creed," Sadr understands that America is likewise caught in a web of
its own contradictions in Iraq. Without violence, there is no rationale for
continued occupation. If Sadr maintains his ceasefire, there is no reason to
cancel elections or to exclude his party from them.
The Americans, like
the British in India or the segregationists in the American South, are being
forced to choose between committing even greater violence and ceding political
power to Iraqis who oppose the occupation. As Gandhi said, "First they
ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win."
Once a popular leader or movement can no longer be ignored or marginalized,
there are few good options. Bush has chosen violence at every turn, but he has succeeded
only in killing a million people, prolonging the conflict and raising the
stakes for his successor.
British and Badr Brigades forces attacked Basra at the end of March, U.S.
officials claimed that they had no part in the new offensive, and only became
involved in order to rescue their Iraqi allies. And yet U.S. forces soon became
fully engaged in operations in Basra and elsewhere, and have now launched a new
offensive in Sadr City. It seems that the Badr offensive in Basra was a classic
provocation to draw out the Sadrists and other resistance forces around the
country, so that their sanctuaries can now be targeted by air strikes, house
raids and death squads.
responded by reiterating his cease-fire, once again refusing to be drawn into
the kind of widespread armed resistance that could lead to his party's
exclusion from the political process. He knows that time and history are on his
side. Sooner or later, as long as he plays his cards correctly, this will end.
The Americans will leave, and he or a successor can start to pick up the broken
pieces of their country.
America is to salvage its own position in the world, it must find a face-saving
way out of Iraq. All over the world, from Pakistan and Nepal to Ecuador and
Guatemala, popular political movements are overturning militarist regimes
allied with the United States. In Iraq, the mask of American "values"
has slipped too far, exposing the true nature of the powerful interests that
control U.S. policy. The war in Iraq is forcing Americans to confront the
practical, moral and legal contradictions of their government's policies. This
is a crisis of historic proportions, but the final result may yet be a wiser,
safer, fairer, more humane and more peaceful America. It's up to us.